Here is my latest manly indulgence.
That's a Merkur. It's not cheap but it is also far from the most expensive razor out there. It's an old-fashioned safety razor. And I won't beat about the bush but will go right for the big question right away: Is is a better shave?
Yes it gives a better shave!And you can feel it immediately. It's not a subtle difference. There is an important caveat however: It is much easier to nick and cut your face with an old-fashioned safety razor so you have to develop better shaving skills to get the best of one.
To know the whys and wherefores, read on.
And I have to begin with something that some might find offensive. So, first a qualification. There is a difference between stupidity and not being intelligent. If you are stupid it is your fault, your moral fault, whereas if you merely lack intelligence that is a function of genetics and culture and is not your fault.
I mention this because the sad truth is a lot of men are stupid and there is no greater proof of this than the success of the multi-blade razor.
Years ago, when the twin blade razor was first introduced, Saturday Night Live ran a mock commercial for a triple blade razor, the slogan for which was "Because you are so stupid, you'll believe anything." That's true. So, brace yourself, a couple of brutal truths:
- If you really believe that the first blade pulls the hair out so that the second can cut deeper, you are stupid. Not only is this impossible (the two blades are nowhere near close enough to accomplish this) it would be a very bad thing if it were possible. A razor that cut the end of the hair off so that it receded below skin level would cause infections from ingrown hairs.
- If you really believe that multiple blade razors reduce skin irritation by doing everything in one pass, you are stupid. It doesn't matter if you drag one blade five times or five blades once, you get the same friction and scraping. What's more, and this is really important, you have to drag the blade against the skin to get a close shave; there is no other way to do it.
The good news is that, although we all start off stupid and will all struggle against it our entire lives, it can be overcome.
The first thing is that what makes a safety razor safe is that it limits the depth of cuts it doesn't prevent cuts. That is important because you can cut yourself very deeply with a straight razor and it is possible to kill yourself with one (both accidentally and on purpose).
A safety razor still puts the edge out where it can do harm. Compare this with a modern multi-edge cartridge and you will quickly see that the cartridge is designed to prevent you from pressing the blade into your skin. This may seem a good thing given what passes for men nowadays but it is more likely that living a coddled life where even the risks of cutting yourself shaving have been minimized is what has made us that way.
The fact that it can do harm in that position is also the reason why it shaves closer! As Plato says, anything capable of doing good will necessarily be capable of doing harm. Just as the doctor best able to cure you will also be best able to kill you, so too the best razor for a close shave is also the one that can most easily cut you.
So the first thing to keep in mind with a safety razor is that you have to be very careful about how you hold it against your skin. And you have to be careful about how you draw it across your face. Long, smooth, slow strokes are safer and shave closer. Short, quick, choppy strokes are less effective and more dangerous.
The Merkur helps us do this because it is heavier than a cartridge razor. The second you pick this beautiful thing up, you know you have a serious, manly tool in your hands.
Now there are, unavoidably, areas of your face where long strokes are impossible most notably under you nose and on your chin. And you will cut and nick yourself in these areas getting used to a safety razor. The first rule is to follow Julie London's advice and go slow. The second rule is to learn to get it right the first stroke. Every time you go back, the odds of cutting or nicking yourself rise.
There is a spot immediately under your nostrils where it's a good idea to make one pass with the grain and then turn the razor around and shave against the grain. Do this very slowly. Get into a manly groove for it. Stand solid on your feet, bend your knees slightly, position the razor carefully and move it very carefully. Take as much care as you would lining up a difficult putt or a difficult billiards shot.
As a rule, by the way, don't shave against the grain anywhere else with any kind of razor. It can cause ingrown hairs. (As long as we're talking safety, don't ever, under any circumstances, share a razor. You acquire or can pass along HIV or Hepatitis that way. In the case of Hepatitis, the disease can be communicated with a razor even if neither user has it.)
The glory of simplicity
Here is a (less than ideal quality but good enough) shot of the razor broken down.
Those three prongs on the lid fit through the blade and the base plate. When you screw the handle on it clamps that blade very tightly. There is a more convenient but less effective variation on the safety razor that has two doors that open when you twist the handle and you simply drop the blade in. While more convenient, this is a much less effective tool because it leaves the blade some play and you don't want that.
The other really great thing about this simplicity is that it can be thoroughly cleaned by taking it apart and rinsing the tool off while very carefully pushing any accumulated hairs or cream off the blade. this is a huge advantage over cartridges which all clog up very quickly and cannot be cleaned at all.
So, there you have it. The question is not are you man enough to try it? but, Are you willing to become man enough to use it? You can but it will take time and effort and you will cut and nick yourself while learning.